An overview of workplace sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a type of employment discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It can consist of either physical or verbal abuse of a sexual nature. It can also consist of statements that disparage a person's sex in general. For example, a supervisor's statements, although not sexual in nature, that disparage women as a group, can amount to sexual harassment.

The harasser can be either a man or a woman, and the victim can be the same sex as the harasser. The harasser can be the victim's direct supervisor, a supervisor in another area of the company, a co-worker or even a person who is not employed by the victim's employer, such as a customer. Sexual harassment is of two types: "quid pro quo" harassment and "hostile environment" harassment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment

The typical case of quid pro quo sexual harassment involves a supervisor making continued employment or employment-related benefits, such as raises or promotions, contingent on obtaining sexual favors. The threats can be either implicit or explicit.

Hostile environment sexual harassment

To be actionable, hostile environment sexual harassment must be frequent and severe such that it results in a hostile work environment. In other words, it must typically be more than an isolated incident or teasing to be illegal employment discrimination.

Sexual harassment can come in many forms. Common types of conduct that appear in hostile environment cases include:

  • Sexual innuendoes or remarks
  • Offensive or unwanted/unwelcome touching, up to and including sexual assault
  • Sexual advances or rude gestures
  • Posting of obscene, sexually explicit, pornographic or suggestive pictures or images
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Sending sexually explicit emails
  • Watching co-workers in bathrooms or dressing or locker rooms

Hostile environment cases are judged on both a subjective and objective standard. The standard set by the Supreme Court is so long as the environment "would reasonably be perceived [objective], and is perceived [subjective], as hostile or abusive" is sufficient to allow a victim to bring a sexual harassment claim.

Speak to an employment discrimination attorney

Whether it is quid pro quo or hostile work environment sexual harassment, you do not have to suffer. You have the right to employment free of illegal discrimination or harassment. If you believe you have been a victim of sexual harassment, contact The Devadoss Law Firm, P.L.L.C., today to schedule a consultation with an experienced employment discrimination lawyer.